From the Studio

thoughts on art and process in action from a contemporary artist

Archive for the ‘stream of conciousness’ Category

#DadaTaroT @ open studios

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I did a less formal version of the #DadaTaroT piece at this fall’s open studios.  I am really enjoying this piece!  A lot of people asked some pretty intense questions, and many interesting interpretations and conversations arose.

A few odd things keep happening:  out of the (4?) times people have asked about Trump winning the election (the piece was made during the primaries), Elvis has been drawn three times out of the nearly 100 media cards.  What is one to make of that?

Another thing that has happened at least three times is that pairs of friends have picked the same card after the entire deck was shuffled.

Two groups went as three people together instead of a pair.

In this iteration, a questioner asked about the nature of the artist as a child, and the person answering was actually quite right.  Another person made an offhand comment that the questioner would get a tattoo on their hand… which it turned out they already had.  A surprising number of people asking about their own mortality.

Narratives upon narratives.

Apologies… the notes on the  two responses seems to be lost.  I’m working on recovery and will post them when and if I get them.

The Crucible of Deadlines and Constraints

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hand on fireMy problem as an artist has never been lack of ideas or even crafting skills.  The real skill is deciding what is most important and when, what not to do, what to sacrifice, what to put the most time and effort into.  Drawing itself is an act of selection- what line to place, what line to ignore, what line to emphasize, tweak, or ghost.

So right now I have a good problem for an artist- two shows at the same time.  One I committed to months ago, but without a specific piece.  Since I knew I could have more space for that show I prepared to spread out and create a larger installed environment.  Then I was invited to be in a show in a museum just outside Zurich, Switzerland.  They wanted a specific piece, and it is one I have to be there to put together.  And they open two days apart.

Now that the Switzerland one is confirmed I’m turning back to the first one.  Suddenly I have more constraints.  Something that can run itself.  Something smaller and easy to install.  Still something interactive.  In the case of this show, something both contemporary and Dada. I was intimately familiar with Dada before I left high school and I loved it then, but two more advanced art degrees have actually put me at more of a distance.  So I dove back to the source.  I re-read the manifestos, looked back at the beginnings and what motivated them.  Suddenly an entire new interactive, small, easy to set up artwork burst out of my head.  And it will work.  And it comes right out of the unconscious pool of all the ideas I am constantly exploring. Better still, because the process of Dada involves some randomness, it will be fun and surprising to make.  I’m excited.

When I have enough time and resources to do whatever I want without a burning idea starting in my mind and a place to put the result I do very little that gets finished.  Give me a place, a time, and a single constraint or direction and suddenly my mind is on fire and my hands itching to create.

My studio is Haunted

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I’ve been avoiding my studio.  I only realized it today.  I had plenty of excuse to work at home and wherever I was, so I did.  Now I know that it’s haunting me.

It’s full of work which is not alive to me in this moment.  I need to get the finished pieces out of my field of view for now.  I need to put some of the unfinished work that isn’t in my immediate path aside while I work out new ideas before it tugs me off course.  I still intend to finish those pieces, but with one year left to my program I want my focus to be entirely on new ideas rather than wrapping up the execution of old ones.

“Execution”.  No accident to the double meaning there.  To finish a piece that is already in your mind, where there are no more surprises… to me that is the execution.  It finishes the piece, but it is also robbed of life that way.  Where is the space between creation and execution?

I need the process to stay alive throughout the arc of a piece.

In the case of the studio I need to move all this to some other storage space so that I see possibility instead.  Blank walls and space for the new ideas to take shape.  Laying here in the middle of it, the walls feel heavy to me.  They pull on my mind when it wants to be light and nimble. The new art I’m making in my mind is so different from what is on my walls (more traditional work- the participatory installations are all ephemeral, aquired and elsewhere or in storage).  The work that is the least where I’m at right now is most in my space.  That is why I have been staying away- I felt it’s influence on me and rejected it without thinking it out.  I cannot start making tht new art in this space while the other art is in here.

Even just staring at blank walls helps me create.  When they are blank white even the scale disappears.  I can draw on them with my mind and go through a thousand sketches before I even lift a pencil.

…now where can I get a truck and some storage space I trust?

Written by Mary Corey March

September 20, 2013 at 3:57 am

definitely not a hermit

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IMG_4088No.  My interactive work always comes out of community.  Last night four of my friends helped me to attach the skeins of yarn I’d dyed to rocks and wind them into balls for Identity Tapestry (see previous posts).

What you see to the left is roughly four hours of work done by five wonderful women.  We sat and talked and drank tea and wine and wound, and tied and glued and wound.  I still have many more skeins left to go, but it’s all in sight now.  Yes, I did the first two iterations of Identity Tapestry alone (and pregnant!), but it’s not really a project that is made for that.  I think I prefer this to a hired team or doing it alone.  My friends are wonderful people.

For a rarer dash of the personal, even this small cross-section shows you what interesting people I have around me.  They were respectively a Google engineer/manager who builds interactive experiences and used to do Science museum exhibits and does glass work and now welding as hobbies (and is a mean Swing Dancer), a vision scientist (which includes a share of neuroscience) who also designs knitting patters and is a professional and competitive dancer (including Cancan), a nurse who does nursing missions all over the world and has been my companion at Burning Man, and a lady who is a social cat-herder people-helper and coordinator.

A handful of my art school friends are more community and compassion oriented.  We intend to consciously inject more of that into our art-world interactions as much as we can.  It needs it.

Written by Mary Corey March

January 15, 2013 at 12:05 am

gradland: art and the MFA experience so far

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The first few weeks of the MFA program I felt as though I’d landed on Mars.  The culture was alien to me in many ways, especially after years separated into my own studio space, surrounded by programmers and anthropologists and neuroscientists and similar- compassionate creative ones.  I was struck again by what a strange breed artists are.  Since then I’ve gotten to know more of the place, and found people and ideas I connect with and have settled in.

The range is impressive though.   One professor (with a career I respect) will tell me that if I don’t create the piece I’m planning she will.  Another will tell me it’s not worth doing.  Another will tell me it’s a breakthrough work.  Subjectivity is still with us.

Last week I asked a professor a question to see how they would answer and was shocked when they replied that they couldn’t decide for me, that that was something I’d have to figure out for myself.  I was shocked at the very idea that someone would even think I would take their answer as a given!  I’ve never been one to go with any particular authority.  My parents have told me many times that from earliest childhood I had no awe about parents, teachers, movie stars or anyone really.  I see many things to respect in people, but I am always aware that they are human and form my own opinions.

I’ve always been a fan of this Walt Whitman passage from Song of Myself- it describes the listen-to-many sides-and-filter approach beautifully.

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun.... there are millions of suns left,
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand.... nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.

The whirl of ideas, reading and research, exposure to new artists and new art, the constant dialogue with other students, professors and visiting artists of all ages and backgrounds… it’s all wonderfully stirring.  It’s fuel for ideas, it makes me want to work more and faster.

…the big catch is that with all that there isn’t much time for making actual artwork.

I’m looking forward to winter break as a time to totally immerse myself in my work five days a week!  That’s something I haven’t been able to do since Elise was born four years ago.  I have two new interactive projects in the works.  One is now basically tested, finished and waiting for the right show to do it at.  The other is still in sketch-phase.  I may be doing another iteration of Identity Tapestry in the LA area in late January.  Details still in discussion.

Tomorrow I’ll be receiving one of the head curators at NYC’s MOMA for a studio visit.  Benefits of Grad School.

Written by Mary Corey March

November 30, 2012 at 10:43 am

three hour painting

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I’m taking a ground-up painting class this semester.  There are certain holes in my painting (like how to build a good stretcher) that I want to fill. Today we kicked off the painting part of the course with a “show up with a photo to work from and a prepared surface, finish something by the end of class”.  The studio part of the class is from 1-3:45 and we spent the last half hour (running over to 4) discussing them.  The actual painting was pretty much free-painting with little commentary- basically the professor getting to see where we were all starting from.  I took another half hour after class to touch up, and I’d like to touch up some more, but I like what came out of this.

I took the image from a library of congress photo by Alfred Palmer of a woman building a B52 bomber.  I cropped it, desaturated it and mucked with contrast and shadows before using it as a source.  The original photo is full color.

My thought was that if I was supposed to work from a photo was that I wanted to get some of the qualities of photography into the painting and black and white helped do that.  At the same time I decided to use three blacks (warm, neutral, cold), so it’s not exactly a monochrome painting.  Knowing I would have only 3 hours and have to cart it back wet to the studio I worked small.

It felt good to work wet-on wet on a neutral grey background.  I’ve never done it before.  With representational painting I have been working more in layers.  I also really enjoyed diving into Flake White- much more silky and less chalky than titanium white, but more opaque than zinc white- a good match for the photo feel I thought.  It’s not done but I’d like to finish this one.  I like the circle of machine surrounding the woman- organic, mechanical…  it was a good painting session.

I’m so often pushing the edge with new processes and materials that I forget how easily things come now when it’s just paint.

Written by Mary Corey March

September 8, 2012 at 7:28 am

New Skin Painting cont…

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Today I got into the studio for some of the unseen parts of artwork.  I worked on three paintings, but mostly this one.  I like the surface skin of these paintings to have a smooth, almost leathery feel.  At my last open studios people kept asking what I used for the previous one.  “Is it leather?”  No.

As usual I love messing with people’s expectations of conventional materials.

So… today was working the surface of this white layer you see.  I had put on two layers of gesso (sanding between) already while it was stretched against the stitches.  Today it was about working more layers it deep in, letting it dry hanging in the correct directions, smoothing and trimming the edges, getting the backs of the edges.

It is now buttery-smooth, supple and with only tiny intentional hints of canvas here and there.

I worked on other pieces, and at the end was rewards by getting to unwrap the paper protecting the red layer and reveal a bit of what the piece will look like.

I left the bottom layer more raw and rough, more texture in the canvas, the edges a little unraveled in places, the paint itself more textured.  I want it to be all rawness.

Next time it will be the outside stitches and some more temporary center stitches.  The final ones will be red like those in the background… more rawness, and I want them to stand out cleanly against the skin tones.  If I don’t do temporary stitches first and put the red ones after the painting part is done they just won’t stand apart enough.  When it’s done the gap will close, but with obvious tension and a little bunching.

This piece comes from one friend’s story of being a bi-racial girl visiting her white grandmother in the South in the early 80’s.  It may ring true with other people caught between identities to do with skin color, but it was inspired by her particular story and is not meant to be a general statement.

I think the best way to approach the social issues I want to discuss is one person at a time.  Different people’s stories as they are given to me.  …or everyone equally at the same time without any narrative at all, completely open like this one.  It is incredibly important to me to tell people’s stories, to include many different kinds of people in my work.  With my participatory work this is more obvious, but it happens one way or another in all my work.  I am trying to get at human things.  Previous posts on this piece (1, 2, 3)

Written by Mary Corey March

May 15, 2012 at 10:00 am

Binary Woman and art hazards

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She’s close- at least the weaving part is.  I think I may have to create an entire new loom/frame to balance things.  We’ll see.  The second pass with monofilament tightens everything up beautifully but it threw my thread-count measurements. I’m pleased with the weave, and working through the treatment for the edges and frame.  I lost a couple of the hard-drive cables (white) so unfortunately I can’t weave the wire any farther until new ones arrive in the mail.  Almost there…

And in random studio stories I managed to do a bizarre injury with that darning needle there yesterday.  I got up from my seat quickly with the piece in hand and the thread with the needle dangling as I walked away, winding it.  Somehow I managed to step on the blunt end of the needle and drove it nearly all the way into my foot.  There was less than a quarter inch sticking out with the filament, leaving an inch and a quarter in my foot.  Oddly it’s only a little sore today.  I’ve had worse from using a stapler gun too long (which is why I customized my stapler grip with molded plastic fit to my hand).

I wonder how many of my pieces have some trace of my blood in them?  A fair few.  Believe it or not I’m not alone in this, but it does take talent to do a bizarre injury like that!

Still… pleased with how she’s coming along. I like how the weaving process lends an organic quality to the bitmap.  I love playing with that boundary between organic and mechanical.

Written by Mary Corey March

May 8, 2012 at 9:36 am

Pieta- pain and acceptance

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Pieta in Progress (3-15-2012)

The proper title for this painting is "Everyone was once somebody's baby... or should have been"

Today my work on this painting caused me pain.  I’m at home looking for images of crack pipes and needles and spoons and similar drug items to have on the ground in this painting.  It will not be littered with them, but they will be there.  The visual research is painful.  Mothers addicted to crack neglecting children.  Children imitating their crack-addicted mothers by pretending to smoke crack with plastic tubes.  People glorying in their ride, somehow not quite aware of the rabbit-hole they are swiftly falling down.  It made me feel psychically ill.

One of the slippery slopes to homelessness is undeniably drug and alcohol addiction, so it has to be there in the painting.  There are so many ways to end up fallen through the cracks into this state of utter societal rejection- rejection as a human being.  Fleeing sexual abuse is the start for many, as is mental illness, costly debilitating disease and simply old age without money and family who will care for you.  They are people without a net.  That’s why I wanted this Mother there.  Where is that person’s mother?  Is there someone who could love unconditionally and simply embrace them?  When did that person stop being someone’s baby and become human trash?

The person in the painting is not necessarily a drug addict, but that possibility and association has to be part of the piece.  What they are is abandoned, and here they are taken up again.  Yes.  the religious imagery is loaded, but it’s not just Catholic.  The Mother is a very, very old goddess found across the world.  Something I never forgot from my Early Church History course in college was that  Mary was very nearly canonized as part of the Trinity, but the “Holy Ghost” prevailed in her place.  Even though she was not given that official status by the Church, if you go into a church you will notice that Mary’s altars often have more candles than Christ’s.  Her role in prayer for Catholics is someone more forgiving to appeal to- Mother will forgive you or pity you even if God has bigger plans.  Go ask Her to talk to Him for you.  It’s interesting.  For the record, I’m not Christian, let alone Catholic, but my academic  undergrad was in History of Religions.

The important aspect for me of the classical Pieta image is the iconic image of a greater-than-life Mother symbol, and the sense of a possibility of a second life, a rebirth through some state of grace.  It needn’t be religious Grace.  It can be compassion.  Such an archetypal Mother can be a symbol for that state of empathetic unconditional acceptance that one potentially can find in oneself for another human being.  It is recognising another person as a precious human being despite the state they may be in.  A person’s real mother might contain more baggage, real people being human and fallible, while symbols can be pure.

I work with iconic images because of their power to unpack into so many ideas of such depth.   The pieta is a pervasive, loaded icon with a lot to offer.  It need not belong only to the religious world.  Like many images and stories within religions around the world throughout history it has the potential to speak to greater human experience.

Written by Mary Corey March

March 18, 2012 at 3:08 am


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I’ve had an injured right hand for the past last week (deep cat bites can be brutal and swell hugely even with immediate treatment and antibiotics).   In this case my tendon on my index finger took the longest to heal.  So… no painting lately.

In the meantime Icaught up on my Art History reading and visited SFMOMA for a member’s preview of Mark Bradford’s work.  Two pieces caught me in particular- “Smokey” and “But You Better Not Get Old”.  Sadly online photos of same were a let-down and just looked flat.  These pieces had things that always attract me, things that dance between states- organic, but geometric, luminous, but with some intense, high-contrast edges, uniformity, but with spills and waves to them.  Also they looked like weavings, which understandable attracts me.  Uniform squares of perm-paper were singed at the edges, making their uniformity give way to a subtle organic sense.  The rows weren’t straight, but gave way to gentle waving…  I loved them and it drove me crazy not to be able to draw them.  I couldn’t even take proper notes because I was limited to my left hand.  His other work I enjoyed well enough and found interesting in concept, and but those were the ones that really moved me.

Being what I have been (a competitive gymnast, a martial artist, bouncer, climber, dancer, stilt walker, tightrope walker, and generally active person) I am used to being without one part of my body or other at intervals.  You learn to work around them, knowing that they will pass.  It always makes me wonder what it would be like to adapt to such an injury if it never went away.

How would I do work without my right index finger?  What would I use instead and how?  Which fingers would I give up first or last?  Morbid thoughts for some, but there are people who have to think about this.  My grandfather is 94 and has severe Dupuytren’s, but is still doing his life’s work, writing every night.  Last year he was considering amputating his two smallest fingers to get them out of the way so he could continue to type, but fortunately voice recognition software came to his rescue and he uses that now instead.  His Wikipedia entry barely scrapes the surface of his life’s work and awards (it neglected the Knighthood from the King of Thailand and his work there, for example).

Clearly there are people who make such choices.  At least my Grandfather is in a position to make them for himself.

I have periodically deliberately handicapped myself for an hour or two here and there- walking around blind, not using one arm, etc.  Even wearing certain kinds of clothes can create a severe social handicap in some places, and I’ve deliberately done that too.  For me it’s part of understanding people.  I think it’s important to know what it feels like to enter a room and have everyone look at you with suspicion, fear, disgust or disdain.  Some people get that every day.

When something like this happens- a little injury, it brings all these things to mind.  I use it as an opportunity for understanding some new perspective on things as best I can.

That said, I am grateful that my hand is now fine and I will be able to paint this week.

Written by Mary Corey March

February 21, 2012 at 11:43 am